DePaul University Center for Teaching & Learning > Assessment > Additional Resources > Non-Traditional Assessment Models

Non-Traditional Assessment Models

​Why Talk About Non-Traditional Assessment Models?

When faculty and staff approach the Center for Teaching and Learning for assistance with planning their annual assessment projects, we tend to suggest certain strategies that do not always resonate well with them. Why does this happen?

Consider the illustration below:

A map showing multiple roads leading to the same destination

We will generally recommend the path with the arrow to get from the house to the castle. This is not because it is the only path or the best path, but simply because it is the shortest path. 

However, we also recognize that there may be instances where it will make more sense for you to take one of the alternate paths – that sometimes you might be metaphorically interested in the beach or the yellow tent and the shortest path is not the most logical path for you to take.

It is in this spirit that we present to you some of these alternative assessment models.

Authentic Assessment: Assessing by Doing

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Authentic assessment is based on students’ abilities to perform meaningful tasks they may have to do in the “real world.” In other words, this form of assessment determines students’ learning in a manner that goes beyond multiple choice tests and quizzes.

Authentic assessment has several advantages over traditional assessment, summarized in the table below.

Authentic Assessment Traditional Assessment
Requires students to contextualize and apply what they have learned. Asks students about what they learned out of context and tends to encourage rote memorization ("what do we need to know for the test?")
Forces students to work within the ambiguities and grey areas present in the real world. Encourages students to think about issues in "right" versus" wrong terms.
Challenges students with a full array of tasks, challenges, and priority-setting that is required in solving problems in the real world. Tends to focus on single answers to problems.
Look at students' abilities to plan, craft, and revise thorough and justifiable arguments, performances, and products. Rarely provides students opportunities to plan, evaluate, adjust, and revise responses.
Often include ambiguous problems and roles that allow students to practice dealing with the ambiguities of the real world. Frequently focus on discrete, static (and often arbitrary) elements of the skills necessary to work on ambiguous challenges.

Wiggins, Grant (1990). The case for authentic assessment. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation. 2(2).

Here are some suggestions for developing an authentic assessment:

  • Identify at least one task students need to be able to do to be successful in employment and/or continuing education
  • Work with your fellow faculty/staff to determine how students might be able to demonstrate their ability to do the task(s)
  • Identify criteria to evaluate the task(s)
  • Evaluate students’ abilities to complete the criteria of the task(s)


  • Biology lab practical
  • ePortfolio
  • Music jury
  • Mock trial
  • Acting in a play

The basic premise of authentic assessment is that if you want to know how well someone golfs, the best way to assess it is to have that person play a round of golf.

There are several critical elements to consider before deciding to use authentic assessment.

  • This type of assessment requires a sense of meaningful tasks that students would need to be able to do after they leave DePaul. 
    • These meaningful tasks are often linked to demonstration of knowledge/skills/abilities needed in the post-college world.
  • Authentic assessment typically relies on using a rubric (or some other scoring guide). 

Before deciding to implement authentic assessment, you should consider the following two questions:

  • Where do students go after they complete your program?
  • What do students need to be able to do to be successful in what they do after they complete your program?

Additionally, you should take the following things into consideration:

  • Time: Developing the tasks for students to complete takes time, as does developing rubrics/scoring guides and assessing students’ tasks.
  • Authentic Assessment needs to be done at a developmentally appropriate time.
    • Students need to grasp knowledge and skills before they will be able to apply them.

Developmental Assessment: Assessing by Progress

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Authentic assessment looks at students’ progress in developing skills, abilities, values, etc., rather than evaluating students’ final products.

Not every type of learning is best assessed by looking at the quality of a final product. In fact, sometimes there is no expectation that students should, or even could, fully develop in the assessed area by the end of a course or program. An example of this is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Theoretically, very few people ever fully develop to the final “self-actualized” stage. A few advantages of authentic assessment are:

  • Developmental assessment is useful for outcomes based on students’ development rather than their abilities to create a final product. 
  • This assessment is based on relevant principles of development in your discipline. 
  • This type of assessment emphasizes emerging knowledge and skills, rather than recognizing only students’ final products.
  • Developmental assessment gives you the ability to focus on strengths and unique aspects of your program. 
  • Developmental assessment is ongoing and may occur in many contexts, giving you a richer view of students’ learning.

Developmental assessments require some sort of pre- post- design. If you would like to know how much a student has developed their knowledge, skills, abilities, and/or values, you need to measure that information at the beginning of a learning experience, then again at the end.

Example: One could administer a test at the beginning of a class, then ask the same students to take the same test at the end of a class. By comparing students’ performances on the pre- and post-tests, an instructor could determine students’ levels of development.

Methodologies tend to rely on observational and work sampling techniques that continually focus on performance, processes, and products over selected periods of time and in a variety of contexts.

Example: An instructor may compare two work samples using a developmental rubric to determine students’ levels of development.

Developmental assessment requires a theory of how students develop the knowledge, skills, abilities, and/or values you intend to measure. The person or people conducting the assessment need to have good knowledge of the stages through which students progress as they develop. Developmental assessment necessarily requires some sort of a pre- post- assessment design.

  • The purpose of assessment is to collect information necessary to make important decisions about students’ development and educational needs.
  • Assessment must serve in ways that enhance opportunities for optimal growth, development, and learning.
  • The process of determining individual developmental and educational needs informs instructional practices and provides a template for setting individual and program goals.

Emergent Assessment: Assessing by Discovery

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Emergent assessment is a model based on Michael Scriven’s (1967) goal free evaluation model. With emergent assessment, assessment is structured using “effects” rather than learning outcomes. This model honors the idea that you may bias your assessment by specifically defining what you are looking for (i.e. when you focus exclusively on a learning outcome, you may be ‘putting on blinders’ regarding the other things that may be happening with student learning). This assessment model tends to be more qualitative in nature.

Emergent Assessment addresses concerns about inquiry shared by many disciplines, particularly those disciplines that tend to use more qualitative methodologies. A few examples of these concerns are:

  1. There may be differences between explicitly stated learning outcomes and their associated implicit learning.
    • Prevents overlooking unintended outcomes (both good and bad).
    • Focus is on what program actually does, rather than what it intends to do.
  2. Does defining learning outcomes in “testable” ways alter the learning outcomes (and not always in desirable ways)?
    • With this type of assessment, the assessment process and learning outcomes are equally subject to evaluation as student learning.
  3. Are we sacrificing the roles of assessment for the goals of assessment? In other words, are we sacrificing the process for the outcomes (i.e., assigning grades or writing an assessment report)?
    • This assessment method more directly takes students needs into consideration than a more traditional assessment model.

Profile the actual effects of instruction or educational program against demonstrated needs of students who complete a course or program.

Step One

Create a profile of the needs of students who finish your course, graduate from your program (that goes beyond what you intend to deliver).

Step Two

Identify effects of educational program on students’ learning using primarily direct methods, considering

  • both intended and unintended effects
  • both positive and negative effects

Step Three

Compare the information gained in step one with the information gained in step two.

Methodologies may include anything that includes a global, comprehensive look at student work, behavior, performance, attitudes, and values to determine what affect the academic program is having.


  • Writing Samples
  • Especially those requiring reflection
  • Interviews or focus groups with students
  • Ex. Brainstorming sessions with students
  • Ecological observation of students engaged in work in a classroom
  • Assessors need to be competent in the subject of assessment.
    • Assessors need to “know it when they see it.”
  • Assessors need to be aware of and conscientious of their bias.
    • Ideally, the assessors would have no knowledge of intended learning outcomes, but this is generally not possible in assessment.
    • Assessors do not look for effects solely through the lens of defined learning outcomes or intended learning based on course/program academic content.
  • Need to be Critical!
    • Are you just seeing what you want to see?
  • First, you should consider the necessarily intrusive nature of this type of assessment. Is this appropriate for your setting (i.e., the culture or nature of your course or program)?
  • Also, this type of assessment can be very time-consuming – both for the faculty/staff and for the students.
  • There is a need for both candor and honesty with this assessment model, which may not be comfortable for some people.
  • Assessment with this model needs to be both balanced and unbiased. Note that this requires knowledge from the assessors of their natural biases.

Scriven, M. (1967). The methodology of evaluation. In R. W. Tyler, R. M. Gagne & M. Scriven (Eds.), Perspectives on curriculum evaluation, (p. 39-83). Chicago: Rand-McNally.

Learning-Oriented Assessment

Learning-Oriented assessment is assessment that has the purpose of bringing about deep and meaningful learning for student. This is a course-based type of assessment that focuses on students’ learning rather than instructors’ teaching.

Traditional Assessment Learning-Oriented Assessment
Knowledge transmitted from professor to students Students construct knowledge by gathering & synthesizing information from different sources
Students passively receive information Students are actively involved in learning
Emphasis on acquiring knowledge for the sake of having the knowledge Emphasis on using and communicating information to address real world issues
Teaching and assessment are separate Teaching and assessment are intertwined
Assessment used to monitor learning
Assessment used to promote (and diagnose issues with) learning
Emphasis on the "right" answers
Emphasis on making, and learning from, mistakes

Huba, M.E. & Freed, J.E. (2000). Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses. Allyn and Bacon: Boston.

Here are some suggestions for developing a learning-oriented assessment for a course:

  • Develop course-based learning outcomes
  • Create learning experiences designed to bring about the learning based on the defined learning outcomes
  • Engage students in ill-defined (rather than well-defined) problems
  • Evaluate students’ abilities to complete the criteria of the task(s)
  • Provide formative assessment to involve students in improving their learning
  • Gather feedback from students about instructors’ teaching and their learning to involve instructors in improving students’ learning
  • Adjust instruction based on feedback from students

Methodologies tend to focus more on formative assessment and classroom assessment strategies.  All assessment methodologies should have the purpose of contributing to students’ learning


This type of assessment breaks down the barrier between instructors and students

  • Both are equal partners in students’ learning
  • Requires a lot of formative assessment (students need consistent feedback on their learning)
  • This is a course-based (rather than a program-based) form of assessment.
  • Focuses heavily on formative assessment (rather than summative)
  • BUT, still need to determine how grades will be given in the course
  • This type of assessment is based on an assumption of “backward design”

Before deciding to implement learning-oriented assessment, you should consider the following two questions:

  • This type of assessment requires a lot of faculty buy-in (due to its classroom-based nature)
  • Requires a shift in both instructors’ and students’ thinking about mistakes
  • Making mistakes is to be expected as a natural part of the learning process
  • Use caution that the classroom does not have a punitive view of mistakes
  • Instructors’ teaching is equally up for evaluation as students’ learning.
  • This is a time-consuming form of assessment.

Further Resources

Huba, M.E. & Freed, J.E. (2000). Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses. Allyn and Bacon: Boston, MA.

Knight, P. (1995). Assessment for Learning in Higher Education. Kogan Page: London.

Maki, P. (2010). Assessing for Learning. Stylus: Sterling, VA.